***SPOILERS, as pretty much always unless otherwise stated. Always read the label. Read sensibly. etc.***
Fourteen year old Anna is angry. She is angry that her mum left. She’s angry at the immense pressure her dad puts on her to do better in her mum’s absence. She’s angry that her brother Eddie is babied. She’s angry that she doesn’t feel good enough.
Will is angry too. We just don’t know why.
Anna thinks Will is gorgeous. Heck, every single person in their school thinks Will is gorgeous. When he takes a chance to talk to her one day, Anna can’t believe her luck. When she finds herself actually dating him, she has to constantly remind herself that it’s really happening.
But then little things start occurring. Will wants to see her all the time. He tells Anna her friends will start to get jealous, and they appear to be. He tells her that she’s spending too much time rehearsing with her band. He shows her a text her friend and band mate Dan sent to a friend of his, saying she can’t sing – and Anna leaves the band. With no friends and no band, she is free to spend all her spare time with Will. Until he insists on her spending time she doesn’t have to spare with him. Until he insists she prioritise him over her family. When Anna doesn’t do what he says, he shuts her out and makes her feel guilty.
Then it’s food. ‘You know how I feel about that stuff, babe’ when Anna tries to eat chocolate, or a packet of crisps. There’s a particularly telling scene where they’re hanging out at lunch and Anna is munching on strawberries Will ‘brought from home’ – she is completely unaware of how calculated the act of bringing them to her was.
I have a lot to say about Eve Ainsworth’s Crush. It dragged up a lot of memories for me from my teens. It also made me aware of the fact that there is very little out there warning teenagers of the very real possibility that emotional and physical abuse can happen in relationships. It can happen at any age to any one in any relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual or asexual. Crush tackles a lot of difficult issues in a way that does not alienate younger YA readers. It could well have taken a darker turn than it did, but Crush served to really highlight the dangers of controlling relationships. In a couple of hundred pages, Ainsworth addresses families breaking up, parents with mental illness, social class divisions, friendships and control issues, death, and what therapy is like. I suppose what makes it most accessible to younger readers is the somewhat-happy ending. Anna could have been far more unlucky than she was. Will could’ve hurt her really badly. Her home situation could have not improved. That is not to say that Crush isn’t hard to read – I found it harrowing in parts and cried at others.
The plot presented in Crush is hard-hitting and incredibly jarring, and is a brilliant addition to the YA issues scope. I don’t think anyone is too young to learn what it is like to be in an abusive relationship. I don’t think anyone is too young to learn what it’s like when families break up, or when a parent is mentally ill. Anna is suffering emotionally at the hands of her father, who is projecting his anger at being too inadequate to meet the financial needs of her mother onto her. He’s picking on her for not washing up correctly, or not being home on time, and generally pointing out each and every one of her minuscule failings out in an effort to disguise his feelings about his own. Will is seeking control outside of his family situation because he cannot control how his mother is, or the fact that his dad is gone, or what happened to his brother. Although his behaviour is explained throughout Crush, Ainsworth ensures he is never excused for what he does to Anna, and to Dan. In a lot of ways, it is a true exploration of both sides of the story. Often in YA we see emotionally manipulative characters
(I’m looking at both of you, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black as exemplary models for the very character I’m talking about) and the behaviour is passed off as swoon-worthy machismo where the guy is only acting that way because he loves the girl. Uh…
Thankfully, Ainsworth takes great care to let the reader see Will and Anna’s relationship deteriorating, and despite Will’s many flaws that would in any stereotypical prose make him worthy of a feature on the Brooding YA Hero Twitter, there is a distinct sense that Will is dangerous and as a reader I felt as powerless as Anna’s friends in warning her that Will might not be as great as she first thought him to be. Ainsworth really achieved in demonstrating the distinct difference between a loving relationship, and a relationship gone wrong.
In relation to Crush, I think it’s important to discuss the signs of Domestic/Dating Abuse. I’ve often seen posters on the backs of toilet doors in college
(or Uni to my UK friends), but it’s not a topic I saw broached while in school, nor has it been a topic I feel anyone receives any sort of formal education on unless they are specifically studying it. This makes it not only a prevalent issue but incredibly dangerous, as often people in abusive relationships can’t spot the signs and don’t know how to get out of the situation. 2in2u.ie is a website dedicated to offering information and support to those who feel they may be in an abusive relationship, and they have a concise, 10-point list of warning signs people should be aware of. The list covers a lot of the warning signs Will exhibited in Crush, such as commenting on how Anna dressed, or complained that she spent too much time away from him, insisted on texting her all the time and accused her of cheating if she was more than a minute late turning up to meet him. One that wasn’t included in Crush but is a key warning sign is demanding passwords to email and social media accounts. Unfortunately, this list is non-exhaustive and there are many ways a partner can emotionally, physically and psychologically abuse. SAFE Ireland has reliable information available on what to do if you feel you are in an unsafe relationship, how to access supports before, during and after leaving a partner and information on refuge centres across the country. For people in other countries:
Canada: (list of domestic violence agencies by region) http://www.hotpeachpages.net/canada/
If anyone has numbers to add to this list for other countries, or any additional resources, let me know and I can add them to the list. This is incredibly important information, and if you suspect anyone close to you is at risk please do whatever you can to let them know that there are other options.
Crush is an incredibly important book, and is so far one of my favourite releases of 2016.